How to Work a Scene

Image #5 - Happy Medium

There are occasions when I stumble across a beautiful scene and I know there is at least one great image to be made, but that image is not immediately apparent.  To find that great image, I take a couple different approaches.  I either stand back and look around for a while and see what I can find or simply dive in and just start taking pictures.  The former works great for static scenes, while I tend to use the latter if the light is changing fast and its do or die time.  This morning turned out to be one of those particular mornings.

I was headed out to do some bird photography and got a bit of a late start so the sun was already up.  It was a beautiful morning with fog burning off, so I was keeping my eye out for a nice scene.  As I drove past a small pond on the east side of the rode, I was blown away by the fog and light.  After slamming on the breaks, taking a quick U-turn, and pulling off the road, I jumped out and wasn’t quite sure what to do.

The scene was fairly simple.  The pond had fog rising off it, backlit by the early morning sun still very low in the sky.  The pond was scattered with dead trees providing some interesting subjects. Best of all, a man was sitting in a small boat fishing.  The subjects were there, but pulling together the “right” composition was proving difficult.  Since the light was changing fast, I just started shooting.

Image #1 - Wide Angle

My first instinct was to grab the 24-70mm lens and shoot some nice wide landscapes.  The above image was the result.  I tried to use the dead trees to create a pleasing composition, balancing the open space on the right and the focal point of the fishermen.  Unfortunately, I found the trees just too heavy and dark and really not that visualling appealing.

Image #2 - Telephoto

I quickly grabbed the 70-200mm lens so that I could shoot with a short telephoto and further isolate the fishermen.  The second image was the result of going to the other extreme, 200mm.  It’s simple and it works.  The rule of thirds fits pretty closely with the image divided into thirds vertically (water, trees, sky), and the fishermen sitting on the right third of the frame.  The small snag on the left helps to balance the image but I could really go without the middle snag, but you take what you get.

Image #3 - Wide with Foreground

Whenever I work a scene, I immediately try and grab something that is sufficient.  This comes from working for the Bowdoin Orient in college.  You have to have something to publish so make sure to get the sure shot, then try more creative approaches.  This morning, I had a shot I could use, so I tried some “riskier” compositions. Here, I moved down the shore a little and found a hole in a tree where I could place the fishermen and then get a nice view of the lake.  In image #3 I have included a lot of the foreground and I find it a little distracting.  Also, the fisherman is pretty small in the frame.

Image #4 - Another Telephoto

As I did after the first image that was too wide, I zoomed in and found that I could remove most of the foreground but leave a few out of focus cattails to hint at the presence of the foreground.  Image #4 works but my eye is looking for something to anchor the bottom a little.

Image #5 - Happy Medium

I zoomed out again and found a happy medium.  This image (larger version at the top of the page) provides a little bit different view on the scene.  It frames the fishermen with the foreground elements, but those elements aren’t as distracting as they were in Image #3 but provide the context missing in #4.

I feel that Image #5 is the strongest image.  However, if I were to show these images to an editor, I would show both #5 and then #2.  If the editor doesn’t like the first then she can always go with the more standard and simple alternate image.  My bases are covered and I have created an opportunity to produce a little riskier image without putting the assignment or myself at a big risk.

The one thing missing from covering all bases though, I didn’t shoot any verticals.  I think I’ll save that for another post.

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